Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looks like a Duck

The latest efforts for the DC Lame Duckers to pass another public lands omnibus bill have been abandoned. However, as is often the case with politics, the good news only lasts until the next line. The latest word is that the bill will be broken into smaller pieces and packaged with smaller bills for passage. I found it odd that the omnibus bill would be introduced and then so quickly allowed to die. Then came Secretarial Order 3310 from Ken Salazar on December 23 2010, Protecting Wilderness Characteristics on Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Sect. 1 Purpose. This secretarial Order affirms that the protection of the wilderness characteristics of public lands is a high priority for the Bureau of Land Management, and is an integral component of its multiple use missions. The order provides direction to the BLM regarding its obligation to maintain wilderness resource inventories on a regular and continuing basis for public lands under its jurisdiction. It further directs the BLM to protect wilderness characteristics through land use planning and project-level decisions unless the BLM determines, in accordance with the order, that impairment of wilderness characteristics is appropriate and consistent with other application requirements of the law and other resource management considerations.

In a news release from the BLM it stated, “Secretarial Order 3310 directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.”

To sum the Secretarial Order up, what the BLM can now do is manage areas like Wilderness but under the new name “Wild Lands” but not have to have a congressional act to do so. There are mild references within this order to the idea of a public process, consistent with other applicable requirements of law, however much can be read into the lack of upfront and clear-cut detail.

In a post titled Thinking Locally I talked about bringing the debate back home. This would be so we could work the issues out with the local land managers and residents who know and use the area. This would allow a plan to develop through best practices and common sense not special interest lobby and political favor. However rebranding one bureaucratic label with another to expedite a one-sided agenda isn’t exactly progress. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Wilderness under a different name is still Wilderness.

I have a suspicion that the lack of bureaucratic labels is not the problem the BLM faces. Maybe the ineffective execution of the policies we already have and the hijacking of the political process by special interest is where we need to focus our reform. If you are in a hole and cannot get out, the first thing to do is quit digging. Developing new tools may seem like the easy way to solve a problem however if we do not even use the tools we have, more tools are not going to help.  Creating a new Wild Lands designation isn’t going to do the work the BLM needs to do which is to uphold their multiple use mission and manage our lands responsibly.

It is most likely my naive hope that there is justice and objectivity left in the world that pushes me to try and find the good in Secretarial Order 3310.  The order is vague and there is plenty of room for interpretation of what is, or can be a wilderness characteristics, but let’s be optimistic. I will hope that the fair and transparent public process will really be so. I will hope that this will bring the debate home from Washington and back here with the people who know the country, know the issues and have spent generations being stewards of the land. Let’s start this New Year off hoping and working for better public lands management.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunrise View - Defending Gold Butte

This article was run in the Sunrise View a little while back.

Defending Gold Butte
Desire for wilderness status not shared by all who love area

I believe that this is the first article that has attempted to show some of the debate on the issues surrounding Gold Butte.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Learning the Hard Way

The recent discovery of vandalism at Red Rock National Conservation Area (NCA) at one of the rock art sites has been making the rounds on the news circuits. This kind of senseless and destructive vandalism is inexcusable and I hope that the vandals are caught. However, in trying to find the best of a bad situation, one thing that these recent actions have done is stir up the conversations around protection, education and enforcement of our public lands and cultural sites.

KNPR State of Nevada had Mark Boatwright, BLM Archeologist in Las Vegas, as a guest speaker on December 3rd 2010. The conversation was centered on the vandalism at the rock art sites but the discussions also touched on some of the issues faced when managing cultural sites. In the interview Mark said, “The problems that we have with managing rock art sites is their accessibility. The closer that they are to the road, whether it’s an NCA or a monument; the more likely you are to see graffiti. 

In a post I wrote back in October, Defining Access, I worked to define that access is more than the simple definition of an open or closed road. I think that Mr. Boatwright complements this discussion with his quote about access, “The problems that we have with managing rock art sites is their accessibility.” I believe that access also encompasses the visibility or awareness of certain areas as well. Political designations are one tool that is used to raise awareness of specific areas to a much broader audience. These political designations include NCA, Wilderness, National Monument and the likes. To brand certain areas with distinct labels and highlight them on every map, publishing it on internet sites and printed media is making these areas more accessible by advertising their location. However, with this raised awareness there is also an associated risk that is being ignored.

While many are using the recent actions of vandalism at Red Rock as testimony to rush Gold Butte’s status as an NCA, I would counter that this is plain and clear evidence of why it should not be rushed. If an area like Red Rock that has been protected for many years, is much smaller geographically, and has more intense management and available resources than Gold Butte, and it is still getting vandalized, maybe pointing the spot light on Gold Butte is not in Gold Butte’s best interest. Now is not the time to earmark Gold Butte for the bureaucratic brand.

Now is the time, when Gold Butte is flying low on most people’s radar, to build a practical management plan. A management plan that focuses on education and enforcement objectives that can safeguard Gold Butte’s resources and accessibility for the general public. To label Gold Butte an NCA and highlight it on every map and print it on every national register is reckless and irresponsible. If everyone who believes they are as impassioned as they preach about what is best for Gold Butte, could focus their misguided energies on sustainable solutions for Gold Butte, positive achievements could be accomplished. However, if this agenda is pushed, it is being run at the risk of the irreparable consequences it carries to the physical sites and the general public.

It is time to foster new discussions instead of the same ol’ worn out rhetoric calling for the implementation of ineffective policies that do not work. It’s time to come up with sustainable solutions, instead of taking risks and putting our public lands in danger.